TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A local firefighter is not only protecting people from fires, but stepping in to prevent youth suicides.
(left to right) Tyler Abernathy & Brandon Weyand - Co-founders of the 'Be a Life Saver' campaign to prevent youth suicide
Since starting with the Mission Township Fire Dept. at just 22 years old, Lt. Tyler Abernathy has been working for the last few years to make a difference in the lives of kids in the community.
Not long after starting he was quickly promoted to being the fire prevention officer, “So I was in charge of basically doing public education with the elementary school students," Abernathy explained.
But, when his department started running more suicides and self-harm attempts than actual house fires, Abernathy realized they needed to shift their educational focus.
"I thought well if we are putting so much time and training into teaching these kids how to be safe, why don't we teach these kids how to be peer support and help each other?” Abernathy said.
Giving students the resources they need to potentially save lives themselves.
From there, Abernathy and his partner Brandon Weyand started the 'Be a Life Saver' campaign two years ago and partnered up with Washburn Rural Middle School's peer Make a Difference group to put it into action.
"The kids we are working with in the make a difference group, they are probably the bravest kids I've ever met.” Abernathy said. “Everybody always talks about firefighters and their bravery and what we do and how its important and take a lot of courage, it’s absolutely nothing compared to these kids walking around their school, being there to help these other students that need their help and in a subject that’s super touchy."
So far, they've been to Washburn Rural Middle School and plan to go to the high school with the goal of talking to 800 students total this school year.
Abernathy, now family man with a one-and-a-half-year-old at home, says it’s the hardest lesson he’s taken on, teaching the next generation their lives matter and help is out there.
"That’s our hope for all these younger kids coming up is that we want them to be the future, we want them to come in and kick us out and take our job someday, and we just want them to be able to help each other." Abernathy said.
If you'd like Abernathy and his team to talk at your school just reach out to the Mission Township Fire Department at (785) 478-4053.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide you can find help through the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.